Josie's Joy brings gift of awareness (w/video)

IF YOU GO

• WHAT: Josie's Joy Winter Run-derland 5K and Kids 1-mile Jingle Bell Walk

• WHEN: 8 a.m. Dec. 7

• WHERE: Memorial Field, 1110 Sam Houston Drive

• COST: $25 per person or $20 per person for a team of five or more.

• FOR INFORMATION: To register for the run or to learn how else to help, call 361-935-9837 or email the organization at josiesjoy1@gmail.com.

Did you know ...

•  Major risk factors for kidney disease include diabetes, high blood pressure, family history of kidney failure and being age 60 or older. Additional risk factors include kidney stones, smoking, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

• One in three American adults is at high risk for developing kidney disease today. The risk increases to one in two over the course of a lifetime.

• Every 30 minutes, your kidneys filter all the blood in your body, removing waste and excess fluid.

• Of 118,000 Americans currently on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant, more than 96,000 need a kidney. Fewer than 17,000 people receive one each year.

SOURCE: National Kidney Foundation

The gift Irma Vasquez wants to give this year can't fit under a tree.

Rather, it is free, and every person gets one - it's the gift of awareness.

Vasquez, 40, is sharing that gift with the Crossroads this year through her organization, Josie's Joy, a nonprofit with the goal of making people understand renal failure.

Josie's Joy is having its first fundraiser at 9 a.m. Dec. 7 in Riverside Park with a Winter Run-derland 5K and Kids 1-mile Jingle Bell Walk.

Josie's Joy formed out of sadness - Vasquez's mother died of renal failure.

"She looked like a scared child," Vasquez said, tears in her eyes, as she remembered her mother's face the first time she was going to undergo dialysis in 2008.

After a two-year battle with kidney failure, Vasquez' mother, Josefina Valdez, 67, died in December 2012.

But her diagnosis and death are not the reason why the organization started - it's everything in between, Vasquez said.

In that first year of dialysis, Vasquez would go to her mother's house out by Saxet Lakes at 3 a.m. to pick her up for her 4 a.m. dialysis treatment at DaVita.

The trips to cleanse her blood went from being long, draining treatments to family affairs.

Vasquez's children would wake up early in the morning to be sure to be there for Momo, or their grandmother.

They passed the time with Grandma, making sure she felt comfortable during the process. That first December in 2008, Vasquez and her family made Christmas gift baskets for Valdez and surprised her at dialysis.

Valdez, being one who did not enjoy the limelight, was upset but not for the reason of embarrassment that Vasquez thought.

"Next time you do something like that, you be sure to do it for everyone," her mother told her, "not just me."

That's when the idea for Josie's Joy started.

In the next three years, the family made an effort to put money aside and gather kidney-healthy foods to deliver to those on dialysis.

Kidney disease kills more than 90,000 Americans every year, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Valdez is now part of that 90,000.

After her death, Vasquez had a hard time going back to the dialysis center to deliver the baskets, but she did it.

Vasquez's daughter, Emie, 10, cried as she listened to her mother share stories of her grandmother.

Vasquez's house smells of pecan and pumpkin pie, a skill she learned from her mother, who was head baker at Halepaska's for several years.

All the memories make Emie not only sad but also happy.

"She would always care for us," Emie said. "She was literally there with us everywhere we went."

This year, Vasquez went to Emie's school at Chandler Elementary to drop off barrels so students and staff could help donate kidney-healthy foods.

She's still setting up other locations in preparation for their delivery later this month, she said.

And while the pain of the first anniversary of her mother's death creeps closer, the idea of continuing to help others gives her solace.

"I just felt Mom touch me," she said, crying. "I felt her tell me, 'You have to do this. You have to keep going.'"